The evolution of the FA Rules starts in December 1863 with the introduction of the first FA Rules. One-and-a-half month after the foundation of the FA in London, the first Football Association in England.
As further regional FAs were founded around 1870, it was also called the London FA for the purpose of differentiation. This is because most of its members during the 1860s and early 1870s came from London and the surrounding area.
Games with mixed rules were no problem
The FA members were forbidden to play games against non FA members and to use other rules than the FA Rules. But that was not really adhered to. Many games of FA members were also played according to the rules of other clubs. Either they decided to play according to the rules of one of the both teams or switched between the rules at half-time or merged the two own rules to a completely new one.
This was possible without any problems, because there was no regular playing schedule. The FA Cup was not introduced until 1871 and the Football League was first played in the winter of 1888/89.
And football in the first two decades was mainly played by gentlemen, who played the game as a pastime and gentlemanly duel. Furthermore, in the 1860s and 1870s there was no real separation between football – association football and rugby football. There were various hybrid forms.
The spreading of the FA Rules in the 1870s
The evolution of the FA rules didn’t interfere with it, but it neither did support the distribution of the rules. It was not until the FA Cup and the first international match against Scotland – both played according to the FA Rules. Through this first England wide competition and the national and therefore prestigious games, many in other English regions became familiar with the FA Rules. They spread rapidly and the FA also gained many new members.
The revision of the FA Rules in the first years
The FA Rules were discussed annually at the general meetings held at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London. After the inaugural meeting it became customary for all member clubs to be able to propose their rule changes until a fixed deadline. These suggestions were then discussed at the meeting and either accepted or rejected by vote. Since 1866 these meetings always took place at the end of February, before towards the end of the year.
In the early years (1863-1874), the FA Rules were valid from their decision in September (1864) and February (1866-1874). From 1874 they became valid at the beginning of the coming season in the autumn of the same year.
The AGM of the FA until 1882
December 1, 1863: report – NN: Football Association. In: Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 05.12.1863. without page.
October 28, 1864: report – NN: The Football Association. In: Sporting Life, 05.11.1864. p. 4.
February 27, 1871: report – NN: The Football Association. In: The Sportsman, 01.03.1871. S. 3.
February 26, 1873: report – NN: The Football Association. In: The Sportsman, 27.02.1873. S. 3.
February 24,1875: report – NN: Die London Football Association. In: Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 25.02.1875.
April 17, 1877, extra-ordinary meeting: The cause was a letter to the editor – NN: The Football Association Meeting. In: The Sportsman, 03.02.1877. S. 4. | report – NN: Der Fußballverband. In: Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 18.04.1877. o.S.
February 25,1881: preview – NN: The Football Association. In: Bell’s Life in London, 05.02.1881. p. 10. | report – NN: February General Meeting of the Football Association. In: The Sporting Life, 26.02.1881. P. 3.
The Evolution of the FA Rules
According to the newspaper previews and reports, after 1863 there were only rarely discussions about proposals for rule changes. In 1864 there were still discussions about running and hacking and the criticism that some clubs still play it; linked with the appeal to give up their “manly game” in favour of uniformity. Also 1866, 1870 and 1871 were discussions about the allowed and forbidden handball – in 1870 the proposal for the allowed handball of the goalkeeper was still rejected.
Also in 1866, there was a long discussion about a complete abolition of the offside, for it pleaded not only the Sheffield FC, which had no offside regulation yet, but also others, i.e. Barnes FC. Because this suggestion was made during the meeting and was therefore not submitted on time, it was not accepted. From Sheffield, however, proposals came again and again for the change into a more open offside rule – as well as the kick-in from the touch.
Aside from the complaints of clubs playing rugby before about the loss of running and hacking in favour of uniformity, board and committee seem to were very satisfied with the practicability of the rules (“satisfactory”).
Which rules have changed how and when can be easily traced via the chronologies on this page. The evolution of the FA Rules is sorted here according to today’s laws. They also contain the evolution of the Laws of the Game as well as the rules of certain public schools and the Sheffield FC Rules and Sheffield FA Rules.
A chronological view until 1882 is given here. It contains only content changes of the rules
The starting point, the FA Rules of 1863, are for example published on Wikipedia, see here.
The measurements of the goals are 8 yd in width and 8 ft in height. The height marked by band.
A goal is scored when the ball crosses the goal line between the goalposts and below the goal rope (as a height limit).
Every player who is closer to the opponent’s goal line than the ball, if less than three opposing players were standing in front of the attacking player, is offside. Those who were offside were not allowed to participate in the game, i.e. not to touch the ball or prevent anyone from touching the ball. The reason for this change: The principle of justice.
The player performing the throw-in must not touch the ball again until it was touched by another player.
During a free kick from behind the goal, the team that owns the goal had to remain behind the goal until the ball is kicked.
When a player kicks the ball behind the opposite goal, the goal owning team get’s a goal kick from that goalpost which was nearer to the point, where the ball went behind the goal.
Attacking of a player from behind is forbidden (amendment by Upton Park FC)
Any handball is prohibited whether the touch was intentional or unintentional (amendment by Upton Park FC).
The player closest to his*her own goal is allowed to handle the ball to protect his*her own goal (amendment by Upton Park).
While throw-in in the other players must be at least 6 yd away until the ball was back in play.
Touching the goalposts is not a goal (amendment by Wanderers FC). It is important if the ball jumps from there behind the goal line or not.
After the prohibition of Fair Catch (1871) the free kick was handed out as a penalty for an infringement of the law (amendment by Harrow Chequers). Initially, it is not specified more precisely in the law when the free kick is handed out.
Corner kick as an indirect free kick from that corner which is nearer to the point where the ball went behind the goal line. All players must be at least 6 yd away from the ball until the ball is kicked.
The toss decides which team can choose between kick-off or choices of ends. If they choose the end, the opponent has to kick-off (amendment by Queen’s Park).
After the half-time, the kick-off is performed by the same team as at the beginning.
For offside, the moment of passing the ball is crucial (amendment by Uxbridge FC).
In case of a goal kick no offside rule applies (amendment by Uxbridge FC).
The goalkeeper must not carry the ball (amendment by Queen’s Park).
The throw-in is given to the opponent of the team that played the ball into the touch (amendment by Maidenhead FC and Nottingham Forest FC).
Introduction of umpires. Each team chose their umpire, who then had to adjudicate on an appeal of his team. Tasks: Check the boots of the players.
At the kick-off at the beginning, no player is allowed to stand in the opposing field until the kick-off is done (amendment by Harrow Chequers).
In case of an infringement of the offside law, the game restarts with an (indirect) free kick for the opposing team (amendment by Harrow Chequers).
If the law concerning the handball is infringed, the opponent awards an indirect free kick (amendment by Harrow Chequers).
In case of an infringement of foul play, the opponent awarded an indirect free kick from the point of the foul (amendment by Harrow Chequers).
The goalkeeper may not be changed in a flying manner. If the goalkeeper moved too far out of his goal, s*he could not simply be replaced by another player in order not to risk a goal (amendment by Maidenhead FC and Gitanos FC). But „too far away“ was not regulated by that law.
Every free kick is an indirect free kick, i.e. a goal cannot be scored directly by it (amendment by Harrow Chequers). It was handed out as a penalty for an infringement of the laws of the goal kick, corner kick and offside and handball – all during the game. If a player behaves ungentlemanly during a stoppage in the game, before or after the game, no free kicks may be taken, but cautions and dismissals may be given.
Corner Kick: The ball is kicked from a quarter circle around the corner flag, so that the flag no longer disturbs. The quarter circle has a radius of 1 yd (amendment by Maidenhead FC). From 1877 this quarter circle was also marked on the field.
The measurements of the field of play are 50-100 yd in width and 100-200 ft in height.
Height of the goals can also be marked by a crossbar (amendment by Queen’s Park).
Only at half time the game sides are changed. (amendment by Woodford Walls)
Touching the crossbar as well as the corner flags is not a goal (amendment by Queen’s Park). It is important if the ball jumps from there behind the goal line or not.
The passage „to protect the goal“ is replaced by „to defend the goal“ (amendment by Harrow Chequers).
A goalkeeper may throw and hit the ball (amendment by Vale of Leven FC).
The free kick is kicked at the point where the infringement of the law occurred (amendment by Royal Engineers).
Further tasks of the umpires: signifying handball, ungentlemanly conduct and violation of the offside rule. They also signal when the ball get into touch or behind the goal (amendment by Clydesdale FC).
Players may be sent off because of their illegal play and may not be replaced.
An infringement of the determination of the choice of ends is penalised by a free kick.
Choice between throw-in or kick-in (amendment by Wanderers FC). A throw-in must not be performed in right angles (amendment by Clydesdale FC).
The umpires use a whistle for better signaling, but they still react only on an appeal .
Whoever stands with his back to the opponent and hinder him*her can be charged (amendment by Reading FC).
If the handball happens near the own goal and is not a goalkeeper handball, the referee considers the the ball would otherwise have went into the goal. In such a case, a goal is obtained (amendment by Finchley, Old Harrovians).
In case of a throw-in the offside law applies (amendment by Wanderers FC and Old Harrovians FC).
Jumping on opponents is foul play (amendment by Darwen Club).
Introduction of shin guards (amendment by Wanderers FC). These should not made with metal in order not to increase the risk of injury.
The umpires are supplemented by a referee who can react to the umpires‘ call. He is selected by mutual agreement between the participating teams. Added tasks: timekeeping, booking or dismissal (amendment by Birmingham FA).